The fifth and final day is here, as you are now presented with my top five favorite movies of the decade. If you know me fairly well, this list isn't likely that surprising. I'm pretty forthcoming with what I like, so my Slices of Fried Gold: The Decade Edition is really more of a coronation than anything. Yet, here I am doing it anyways.
Before we move on to the top 5, here are numbers 25 through 6 listed below:
24. In Good Company
23. In Bruges
22. Everything is Illuminated
21. The Departed
18. About a Boy
17. The Constant Gardener
16. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
14. Howl's Moving Castle
12. Finding Nemo
11. 28 Days Later
10. Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain
9. I Heart Huckabees
7. Shaun of the Dead
6. The Dark Knight
5. Almost Famous (Written and directed by Cameron Crowe - 2000)
While this may be Bill Simmons' choice for movie of the decade, this finishes fifth on my list. Fifth is still great, and somewhat fitting spot for the underdog protagonist that leads this film. Plotwise, this is a semi-autobigraphical story about about an absurdly young music journalist on his first job for Rolling Stone, following "a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom" to take a line directly from the movie. However, when you get down to it it's about growing up, it's about journalist integrity, it's about family, it's about the power of music, it's about love, and most of all, it's just about life.
The music part is one of the biggest parts I connect to, as this is one of the best movies ever about music from the inside and the perceptions artists have of themselves. About how the passion of sharing your heart with fans sometimes gives way to the desire to make more money, about how making it big and being happy are different things, and how sometimes, sometimes, all you need is a little Elton John to heal your wounds. Throw in the fact that Crowe (once again) compiled a stellar soundtrack that perfectly highlighted the timeframe (the inclusions of Cat Stevens and Elton John really hit home for me) and the storyline. One of the most impeccably selected soundtracks ever.
Then, you have the performances. The performances, from the lead performance by Patrick Fugit as "the enemy" William Miller (in a debut no less!), to Kate Hudson as lead band-aid Penny Lane, to Frances McDormand as William's over-protective and insanely loving mother, all the way to supporting performances by Jason Lee, Jimmy Fallon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and many more, are uniformly superb and nuanced. The best in my book however is Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond, who effortlessly captures the mystique, genius and anguish of a rocker who is completely out of control and seemingly self-destructive when it comes to his career and love. Sure, he's a virtuoso when he's holding a guitar, but he cannot keep himself from destroying relationships. If I made a highlight reel of the best moments of movies from the decade, I'd probably start off with the scene where Crudup is perched on top of a random home shouting out to his adoring fans "I am a golden god!"
This movie in my mind is the best of Cameron Crowe's exceptional career, and it makes sense given his history. It's really the most personal and self-reflecting of his movies, and the synergy between all aspects of the film is absolutely marvelous.
4. Big Fish (Directed by Tim Burton, written by John August - 2003)
Big Fish fits into the unique group of movies that I saw three times in theaters. Very rarely do I see a movie that time in theaters, but this movie practically demanded it. The fact that I saw it three consecutive days over the same weekend was even more odd, as was the fact that I actually got verklempt during the same portion of the movie (Billy Crudup and Albert Finney's grand escape and the funeral) all three times (oddly enough, the only time I cried during a movie besides Liar, Liar of all movies). Such is the power of Tim Burton's magnum opus, an adaptation of a novel that is strangely inferior in every way.
Whether you want to credit the script, cast, music, direction, cinematography...whatever, it's up to you. All are stellar and all manage to combine to be more than the sum of their parts. This is an exceptional cast, but is highlighted by the duo of Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney playing Edward Bloom as a young man and as a man on his death bed. Both are the backbone of the film, but work perfectly in concert with the rest of the cast that includes Billy Crudup, Marion Cotilliard, Jessica Lange, Allison Lohman, and Burton's wife/cast stalwart Helena Bonham Carter.
This movie is all about reconciling the facts of life with the fantasy life, and how those two opposite concepts affect the life of your family. It's about family, it's about storytelling, and it's about life. That will be a very common theme in all of my top five movies: an effervescent love of life, and how no matter what you should never give up on your dreams of being a very big fish.
3. Children of Men (Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, written by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby - 2006)
I have to say, I have a strange affinity for a good dystopia. When a writer creates a grim dystopia like Cormac McCarthy does in The Road, it's riveting and distressing. You can visualize the scorched earth and the hopelessness with your mind's eye. The amazing thing that Alfonso Cuaron does in this film is he creates a dystopia so complete and so real feeling on film that it bring chills to your skin just to think about it. The set up of the film is simple: no one has been born in nearly 19 years, and humanity is without a hope. Or so it thinks, as a man named Theo Faron must escort a young pregnant woman named Kee across war torn England to the coast to get her to the human project.
That's the central concept of this film, and within this film you see all kinds of atrocities, pain, and horrible sights. Yet, contained on the same film is a visual feast, as Cuaron curates motion pictures that are every bit as haunting and every bit as powerful as anything I've ever seen. Whether it's the now legendary single shot takes Cuaron in the ghetto at the end of the movie, the dynamic opening sequence with the bombing, or the terrifying and action packed sequence when their car is attacked on the way to the human project, this is a visual tour de force unlike most any other film from the decade.
Many films are attractive to look at though, but this film manages to pair the gripping imagery with nuanced and pitch perfect performances, particularly from Clive Owen and Michael Caine. Owen brings all of the bravado we want from an action star yet brings the emotive power of the best Hollywood has ever seen, as you can see in the devestating scene in the first third of the film when he's walking away from a tragedy attempting to smoke, and he simply can no longer stand and has to collapse weeping against a tree. You feel his pain in your gut when you see him, and it's truly stupendous work. Caine brings both humor and heart to the film, giving us a bit of comic relief in such a dark film while also giving us a reason to root for humanity.
One of my favorite things about dystopic films is how they give you insight into modern society so well, while also so effortlessly capturing the best in humanity. It's like Alfonso Cuaron and his posse of writers took P.D. James novel and said, "we need to make humanity realize where they've gone wrong and how they can go about fixing it." For such a dark movie, there is so much hope and vitality within it, and it's one movie that sticks with me no matter what.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Directed by Michel Gondry, written by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry - 2004)
Take one part visionary director, one part mad genius screenwriter, one part incomparable modern actress, one part underrated comedic genius, one part loaded supporting cast, and one part dreamy and original composer. Shake them up (a lot), randomly pour out part of it. Serve iced.
That's the formula to this reality bending flick, the story of a relationship of destiny destroyed by impulse, as in this reality there is a procedure that can remove troublesome memories from your past. Such is the situation Joel Barish (the underrated in a dramatic sense Jim Carrey) finds himself in, as his love Clementine (the lovely Kate Winslet) has decided to permanently erase all memories of him after a fight. This concept of course could only be conceived by Charlie Kaufman (Adapation, Being John Malkovich) and Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep), as they are two of the greatest mad geniuses of the decade. While both creators are brilliant, both have a tendency to let their style and concepts run amok. This is the one movie where they successfully find a counter balance and simply let the narrative convey their message: that no matter what, if love is meant to be, it will happen (regardless of whether or not you have to go to Montauk to make it happen).
This is one of the most unique films of the decade and one of the best pure examples of the power of love. The exceptional cast that includes Carrey, Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and many more captures everything Gondry and Kaufman ask for and more. They help make this an instant classic, and one that will be treasured by yours truly forever.
1. Moulin Rouge! (Written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, co-written by Craig Pearce - 2001)
I absolutely hate musicals. Pretty much everything about them bothers me, from the sheer size of them, to the overly dramatic situations, to the fact that people spontaneously burst into song, to the assured happy ending...you name it. They really bother me.
Imagine my surprise when I sat down one night when I was back from my first semester in college and I was home alone, and I figured, "why not? I'll try Moulin Rouge out" and I ended up loving it completely. I was shocked...how could I like this? I'd never liked a musical before. Yet the bohemian lifestyle in the film connected with me on a real way, as, like the protagonist Christian, I'm a hopeless romantic that believes in simple concepts like beauty, truth, freedom, and love (above all things love!). Strangely, I also found myself enjoying the pop influenced songs...and the grandiosity of scenes just sucked me in. Even the goofy nature of the film just made it more alluring, and at about that point I figured out "damn, I really like this movie!"
Through the seven years since, I've watched it again many times. It seems in many ways it's the perfect counterpart to my favorite album of the decade, Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala. Lekman's album is a light, breezy look at love, with cleverness and charm hidden around every corner. That pretty much describes this film, and like Lekman's album, I can watch this movie any time and always feel better. Some people when they're forlorn will drink or do something self destructive...I watch epic musicals made by Baz Luhrmann and imagine a world in which I can sing my song to my own Satine.
Of course, I cannot sing, nor do people really sing to each other, but it's all the same.
This is also the movie where I realized that Ewan McGregor is pretty much my favorite actor. I'd loved him in Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary before this, but it took this film to realize that I'd be willing to watch pretty much anything he starred in. The rest of the cast is superb as well, but McGregor was hosed by the Academy with this role.
With all that said, it's pretty easy to realize why it's my favorite. I knew it was from the beginning. It was just difficult to figure out what fit in around it.